Lower School Blog: The Art of Stepping Back & The Power of Observation

Lower School Blog: The Art of Stepping Back & The Power of Observation

Last week, I was reminded of the importance of stepping back and allowing a child to experience the moment. I observed one of my young students struggling to put away a geometry cabinet drawer—a large tray that needed to be carefully placed back on the shelf.  The child was trying to put it on the shelf several times with no success. He did not give up. Despite my instinct to step in and assist, I chose to observe instead. Standing nearby, I watched as he navigated this challenge. He remained focused and persistent, and after five minutes, his efforts were rewarded as he successfully placed the tray back in its spot and moved on to choose another activity. This experience reinforced a vital Montessori principle: the importance of observation.

In the Montessori environment, observation is crucial. It involves more than passive watching; it's an active engagement that respects the child's potential to overcome challenges independently. By resisting the urge to intervene, we provide children with the opportunity to experience and learn from their struggles. This approach nurtures perseverance—an essential skill that psychologist Carol Dweck identifies as a significant predictor of future success. Children don't just learn to solve a problem; they learn to persist in the face of obstacles and believe in their ability to find solutions.

In the Montessori environment, we see how children thrive when given the freedom to explore and resolve problems on their own. This approach fosters not just problem-solving skills but resilience, self-reliance, and confidence. These are qualities that can significantly impact a child’s future.

The practice of observation can be equally beneficial at home. Watching your child work through a challenge without immediate intervention teaches them to trust their abilities and pushes them to find creative solutions. It might be tempting to step in—to tie their shoes, solve their puzzles, or organize their toys—but allowing them to persist through these tasks is a gift that builds perseverance. By stepping back, we allow children to engage deeply with their tasks, fostering a sense of accomplishment and self-reliance. The benefits of such experiences are profound: children not only build resilience but also gain confidence in their capabilities, enhancing their self-esteem.

Here are some recommendations to try as you practice the skill of observation at home.

  • Embrace the Power of Observation: When you notice your child facing a challenge, give them a little more time than you might normally. Even if they struggle, the skills they develop in those extra moments are invaluable.
  • Support with Encouragement, Not Solutions: Instead of solving the problem for them, provide moral support. Phrases like "You're working really hard on that," or "I'm here if you need me," lets them know you are supportive while encouraging them to take the lead.
  • Celebrate Their Process: When your child overcomes an obstacle, focus on celebrating their effort and the learning process, not just the outcome. This teaches them to value hard work and persistence. Phrases like, “I noticed you work so hard, and you did it all by yourself!”

Ultimately, the goal is not just to assist children in completing a task but to help them build the inner resources to tackle challenges throughout their lives. By giving children the space to overcome difficulties on their own terms, we encourage the development of perseverance and self-determination. And when children overcome these challenges, the pride in their eyes and their eager exclamations of "I did it by myself!" are the greatest proof that this approach works.  So next time you’re tempted to step in, remember the power of stepping back.


Katia Kozhakova

Dogwood Primary Guide

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